Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School District

IN HIS BOOK, The Spyglass, author Richard Paul Evans tells the story of a king and his kingdom who are able to overcome challenges and accomplish great success by sharing a vision of what is possible and then working to bring that vision to life. Their success begins by sharing the vision of what might be, and then working together to “make it so.”

This parable of the spyglass is ultimately a story of vision, belief in our ability to achieve that vision, and the importance of personal effort in bringing our vision to life. The story beautifully illustrates how each element contributes to our success as individuals, families, and society.

As we reach the middle of the school year, we often begin to focus on the outcomes we have seen up to this point, good or bad. Following parent-teacher conferences, parents and children typically talk about grades and study habits, occasionally in ways that are not particularly reinforcing for anyone in the family. When preparing for and taking part in those discussions, it can be helpful to remember the first two principles illustrated in the story of the spyglass: the importance of a vision and the importance of our belief in our ability to bring that vision to life.

There is a large body of evidence that illustrates the importance of parental involvement in their child’s success and happiness in any endeavor the child engages in. This is not surprising to most parents. Where parents often struggle is identifying what their involvement should look like.

In terms of school success, researchers have identified that “parental aspirations and expectations for student achievement” have the strongest relationship with student achievement, even more so than homework routines and
students’ study habits, Regular conversations between parents and children about their shared aspirations and goals are a powerful tool for promoting a shared vision of success, which can then lead to specific attitudes and behaviors. When parents talk positively about their hopes for their children, it can strengthen the relationship between them, and lead to shared efforts to make those hopes a reality.

As already stated, vision alone is insufficient, even when it is shared. Parental expectations can become a source of stress for children if children do not believe in their ability to meet those expectations. Jim Taylor, PhD, a specialist in the psychology of sports and parenting, suggests parents focus on “effort expectations” instead of ability or outcome expectations.

Ability expectations are those in which children are expected to achieve a certain result because of their natural ability: “We expect you to get straight A’s because you’re so smart,” or “We expect you to win because you’re the best athlete out there.” As explained by Carol Dweck, PhD, in her book Mindset, if children attribute their successes to their ability: “I won because I’m so talented,” they must attribute their failures to their lack of ability: “I’ve failed because I’m stupid.” That approach often leads to a belief that those abilities are fixed, so certain failures become inevitable.

Outcome expectations in which children are expected to produce a certain outcome: “We expect you to win this game,” or “We know you’ll be the first-chair violin in the orchestra,” can also be challenging. The problem is that, once again, children are asked to meet an expectation over which they may not have control.

Dr. Taylor suggests that instead of setting ability and outcome expectations, parents consider working with children to set effort expectations. He explains, “Think about what your children need to do to become successful and create effort expectations that will lead to their success: commitment, hard work, discipline, patience, focus, persistence,
perseverance, positive attitude.”

For example: “Our family expects you to give your best effort,” or “Our family expects you to make your studies a priority.” These expectations are worthwhile whether someone is striving to be a scientist, teacher, professional athlete, writer, musician, spouse, or parent. Regardless of the abilities they inherited from you or with whom they might be compared, children have the capacity to use effort expectations and the tools associated with them to be the best they can be in whatever area they choose to pursue.

Just as the goals and interests children choose to pursue will vary, it seems to be the case in most families that what motivates one child doesn’t always work well for another. Regardless of the specific goals and expectations that are set, as parents and children work together to develop a common vision of success, reinforce belief in the child’s ability to achieve that vision, and identify the personal effort needed to bring that vision to life, parents and children will be better positioned to work together to encourage each child’s long-term growth and success.

Hattie, John, Visible Learning (2009): 70.
Taylor, John, “Parenting: Expectations of Success: Benefit or Burden,” Psychology Today (Nov 4, 2010)